Staying Power – Lisa Danaë Tackles Challenging Internal Terrain on ‘Focus on Me’ Single

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Lisa Danaë surmounts unexpected personal peaks and valleys on “Focus on Me.” Photo – Sam Scarce

Lisa Danaë beautifully carves a refreshing pathway to self-love and personal empowerment.

The Pasadena, California dark pop artist quickly surmounts unexpected peaks and valleys along challenging internal terrain on her latest single, “Focus on Me.”

Throughout “Focus on Me,” pulsating synths, exuberant bass and hopeful electronic drums push Danaë toward a courageous, rewarding future.

She boldly sings, “I’m feeling mesmerized/I don’t know just why/But can’t look away/I need to control my mind/Have so much to say/I won’t be afraid.”

The Stratton Setlist recently chatted with Danaë about her uplifting new single, current releases, background and plans for 2022.

Focus on Me

TSS: “Focus on Me” highlights the importance of being your best authentic self, having a positive mindset and staying true to your dreams. How did those experiences inspire the track for you?

LD: I have been on this journey of self-love and empowerment for the past couple years as I navigated through a huge breakup and dealt with executives in the music industry telling me how to dress, what to sing, etc. I got really tired of non-industry people telling me that a career in music was unattainable, so I started cutting them out over time.

Self-love isn’t something that you achieve and then you’re done, like you will always be in that mindset. It’s a constant roller coaster, but learning how to control it and knowing how to overcome a slump without getting stuck too far in that rabbit hole is the lesson and key to staying there.

You hear that in “Focus On Me,” lyrically and musically. I know that I am great and have purpose, but I’m telling you the story of what makes me forget all of that as well as what snaps me back and the affirmation-like chorus that pulls me out of the dark.

I know how relatable this topic is, and it’s inevitable that you will not lose track of yourself. I hope “Focus On Me” encourages listeners to take time to study their mind and explore methods that can help them get back on track to focus on themselves.

Continue reading “Staying Power – Lisa Danaë Tackles Challenging Internal Terrain on ‘Focus on Me’ Single”

Deep Cuts – ASNT Heals Internal Wounds on ‘Bleed Like Us: Evolution of Sorrow’ Album

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ASNT’s “Bleed Like Us: Evolution of Sorrow” embarks on an emotive journey to release negative feelings of the past.

Backed by propulsive electric guitars, melodic vocals and gritty soundscapes, ASNT beautifully unearths the tender, vulnerable side of deep-seated pain.

The Irvine, California dark hard rock and husband-wife duo of Christina Baldwin (vocals) and Bruce Baldwin (guitar, drums, bass, piano) embarks on an emotive journey to release the guilt, shame and despair of the past on their latest album, Bleed Like Us: Evolution of Sorrow.

“‘Bleed Like Us’ is about ‘Westworld,’ and it’s about machines that look and bleed like us. That ended up being the name of the album on Bruce’s urging because it captures the theme of the whole thing. There is a certain bleeding happening in one way or another, but then there’s a positive resolution in some,” said Christina Baldwin.

Together, the Baldwins slowly slice through tightly sealed internal wounds to provide long-term relief and acceptance across 15 haunting, ruminative Bleed Like Us tracks. For ASNT (pronounced as “Ascent”), it’s an intense, therapeutic path for tackling mental health struggles, destructive relationships and regrettable actions.

“It depends where I am, the kind of writing that I do. I tend to go toward the dark side; it comes easier to me, and I have more words for dark things than I do for light. It’s a dark album, but it’s the evolution of sorrow, which means there is an end,” said Christina Baldwin, who’s inspired by Melissa Etheridge and Ann Wilson.

Continue reading “Deep Cuts – ASNT Heals Internal Wounds on ‘Bleed Like Us: Evolution of Sorrow’ Album”

Day Tripper – Adam Kennedy Circles Globe to Conduct Artist Virtual Photo Shoots

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Adam Kennedy continues to conduct virtual photo shoots with artists throughout the pandemic. Photo – Adam Kennedy

Adam Kennedy unexpectedly became a globetrotter during the pandemic.

The Newcastle upon Tyne, U.K. music photojournalist ventured to Finland, the U.S., Australia, Russia, Israel, Italy, Japan and other far-flung locations to shoot established and emerging artists – all from the comfort of his own home.

In fact, Kennedy’s international photographic jaunts have occurred online as part of a successful virtual photo shoot project he launched in April 2020. To date, he’s conducted more than 570 virtual photo shoots with rock, metal, jazz and blues artists over Facebook, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime and other online platforms.

“It’s just to create a feel of coming together online and being in the moment. After an hour, you usually have something cool. Every session has been completely different, and every artist brings something different to the table,” he said.

“Every environment is different because I’m not working in a studio. I’m predominantly working out of someone’s home, or a person takes me out on location. I’ve been in Los Angeles on the strip, in Sochi overlooking the Black Sea, in Jerusalem at a park and in Victoria near the Great Ocean Road.”

Continue reading “Day Tripper – Adam Kennedy Circles Globe to Conduct Artist Virtual Photo Shoots”

Ray of Hope – Sunny State’s Chris Reed Tackles Pandemic Mental Health Struggles

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Chris Reed recounts his pandemic mental health challenges in a recent MABH COVID-19 Diaries Series article. Courtesy photo

Sunny State’s Chris Reed wants to demolish his pandemic wall.

The San Jose, California reggae fusion frontman and multi-instrumentalist slowly destroys each emotional barrier that arose unexpectedly over the past year. Reed successfully smashes those internal blockades by sharing his mental health struggles with family, friends and fans.

In April, Reed penned an intimate piece for Stanford University’s The Millennium Alliance for Humanity & The Biosphere (MAHB)’s COVID-19 Diaries Series called “My Life As An Artist Suddenly Didn’t Seem Relevant.” The article deeply explores the lingering fear and frustration Reed and his family encountered over the past year as personal and professional challenges mounted.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, The Stratton Setlist chatted with Reed about his experience and how he tackled his troubles. His story serves as a constant reminder for artists, musicians and creatives to openly discuss their mental health struggles with others. Here’s how Reed overcame the stigma and got real about his situation:

How did you come to write this piece for MAHB?

MAHB is a grassroots effort that provides a central meeting place for individuals and groups concerned about loss of biodiversity, climate change, overpopulation and other issues.

In late summer, Aminah Hughes mentioned she was looking for artists to quote about the mental and emotional struggles during the pandemic for a piece she was writing for Around the Sound. Once that article was shared, Michele Guieu, MAHB arts community coordinator, asked if I’d be interested in writing something for their COVID-19 Diaries Series.

I considered this to be a great honor and was humbled and a bit intimidated to write anything for such a prestigious organization. Naturally, I accepted and started milling over what exactly to write. I find MAHB’s mission to align with my wish for the world to be more collaborative and connective.

Continue reading “Ray of Hope – Sunny State’s Chris Reed Tackles Pandemic Mental Health Struggles”

Return on Investment – LovelyOcean Relishes Artistic Focus on ‘No Down Payment’

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LovelyOcean celebrates pursuing her artistic endeavors on “No Down Payment.” Illustration courtesy of artist

For LovelyOcean, a full-time focus on music will pay dividends for years to come.

The Los Angeles hip-hop singer-songwriter relishes the freedom and gratification of pursuing her emerging creative endeavors on “No Down Payment,” now available on all streaming platforms.

“I like to think of ‘No Down Payment’ as a form of background motivation. It’s like, ‘Yeah, this music isn’t paying any of the bills yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t someday.’ I think it’s important that we continue to work on things we love as to not get worn down by work, life and other bullshit,” said LovelyOcean.

“Up until this point, I had been working in the social work field, and it was killing my spirit. But it served as the biggest motivation to work on music so I could get out. I quit my job back in March, and I’ve never felt better.”

LovelyOcean celebrates her “No Down Payment” independence as shiny, cyclical synths, jumpy bass and gentle percussion smoothly glide alongside hypnotic, ‘90s-esque beats.

She reflects, “Just trying to break the mold/They warned me as a youth/Back when I played with dough/Things come natural/Need it off top/The world is gonna feel my flow/No static/We live from the radio/Tryna make it through/Ima shine like I was radial/And have a packed house/Up at SoFi Stadium.”

“Somedays I’m like, ‘Damn, I really wish this shit would pay off soon.’ It can be really discouraging to put your all into music, but no one is really fucking with it. I don’t like to have to ask people I’m close with if they’ve listened to the song. I don’t like begging for support,” LovelyOcean said.

“I’ve been using this time to recover and refocus so I can work on an album, but at this moment my songwriting waterfall is kinda dry. I’m glad I don’t feel stressed by work anymore, but I do feel more pressure to be artistic.”

LovelyOcean started co-writing her creative autonomy anthem with Chuck Chill in January. They recorded the track together in their magical closet studio and watched it quickly flourish over several days.

“It took about two days for the song to be written and probably two days to record it. I’ll spend one day recording it so I can get comfortable with it, and then I’ll record it another day so I can really solidify the vibes. Chuck Chill came up with the concept for the song and the majority of the lyrics,” she said.

“This is the first time I have ever let someone else take over the writing, but I knew he would do the song justice because he’s an excellent artist. Chuck Chill and I have collaborated on multiple tracks so far. He was featured on ‘Theta Waves’ on my last EP, and I’ve been featured on a few of his mixtapes.”

Continue reading “Return on Investment – LovelyOcean Relishes Artistic Focus on ‘No Down Payment’”

Identity Crisis – Gaucho Major Uncovers Past Selves on New ‘Blue Ribbon’ Single

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Gaucho Major’s “Blue Ribbon” challenges people to reveal their true identities.

Gaucho Major keenly uncovers the duplicitous side of human nature.

The Los Angeles pop-rock duo of Max Espinosa (vocals, guitar) and Mike Pappas (songwriting, production) shines a jazzy, truthful light on “Blue Ribbon,” an eye-opening, witty new single that instantly challenges people to reveal their true identities.

“It’s basically a song about the American lie in privilege. There’s a lot that goes into that, and there’s a lyric in there, ‘Be happy that you’ve left where you’ve come from.’ While growing up in LA, I saw people come here from all walks of life,” said Espinosa.

“I noticed a difference with someone coming from Detroit, St. Louis or Cleveland; they just wanna erase where they came from. They’re happy to shed it. But when I go to New York, people are like, ‘I’m from Pittsburgh, or I’m from Ann Arbor,’ and they’re just proud about it. They’re past lives aren’t thrown away.”

Throughout “Blue Ribbon,” Gaucho Major elegantly retrieves those discarded past selves as thoughtful piano, soulful sax, mystical electric guitars, sauntering bass and cozy drums unearth the importance of living authentically.

Espinosa playfully sings, “Be happy to leave where you came from/There’s everything here under the sun/The crowd back there/They ain’t got much to go on/Careful where you step, son/We just did the lawn/It’s good to be on the board/Even if you’re a pawn.”

“The verses are very much like a parody and a caricature’s story. When I get to the chorus, I actually sing and do my normal voice. It’s a wink, a smile and a nod to what people expect in life, especially with the rise in social media, and people filtering out 90 percent of their real life to give you a 10 percent glimpse of the good times,” Espinosa said.

Espinosa and Pappas started delving into “Blue Ribbon’s” refreshing theme of uncovering inauthentic selves last summer. The duo received a songwriting prompt for the track from the KDC Guild’s Kristopher Malone, who will include “Blue Ribbon” on his upcoming multimedia concept album, Welcome to the Cise Pavilion.

“We basically brainstormed this certain segment of the story, and it was this long scene of what an ideal life would look like. It’s the notion of a trophy family and how you’re supposed to live in America, and I thought it was perfect for me to write about it. That was enough for me to get going on creating the soundscape and everything for the song,” said Espinosa, who’s influenced by Steely Dan.

To solidify the track’s first-rate, jazz-inspired sound, Gaucho Major invited a talented roster of musicians, including Kevin Hannah (drums), Kateri Lirio (piano) and Kapil Raman (sax), to collaborate remotely for “Blue Ribbon” over a six-month period.

“We started in July with the skeleton build to get the bones of the track, and that’s just the thematic elements of the song and not even the lyrics or anything. When it came to recording the parts, we did a rough demo in August to send out to our drummer,” Espinosa said.

“We picked Kevin because he’s got amazing gospel chops; he’s got groove. When we got the drums back, we decided to build everything on top of it. We ended up getting those back in late September and recorded everything else in October. And then we sent it off to get mixed in November.”

Continue reading “Identity Crisis – Gaucho Major Uncovers Past Selves on New ‘Blue Ribbon’ Single”

‘Tuesdays’ with Ania – New Single, Video Celebrate Escaping Manic Mondays

Every Tuesday, Ania breathes a sigh of relief.

The Los Angeles heavy metal singer-songwriter and guitar virtuoso slowly exhales after getting through another manic Monday.

“I’ve found that most people are tired and angry on a Monday. By Tuesday, they seem lost and ready to procrastinate again. I make it a point each Tuesday to escape a bit and visit a local hiking spot to get through the rest of the week,” said Ania Thomas, aka Ania.

Ania appropriately celebrates her favorite workday and weekly nature jaunt through a thrash-tastic new single, “Tuesdays,” now available on all streaming platforms.

Boisterous Black Sabbath-esque electric guitars, galvanic bass, propulsive drums, crashing cymbals, fuzzy synths and delicate strings instantly release inner workplace tensions and rejuvenate weary minds throughout the 4.5-minute therapeutic banger.

Ania calmly sings, “And the road, and you climb some more/To find that one path about you/Still shines down on you/Are you forgetting it?/Climb, climb to get to the road you once knew/Where it shines down on you/Stairs are up the way, you know.”

“I think ‘Tuesdays’ bring a sense of relief by sharing a positive message, especially through the lyric, ‘You’re gonna find a way.’ It’s all about wanting to see a light at the end of the tunnel and staying positive while living through our current times. For me, nature has always brought a sense of healing both physically and mentally,” Ania said.

“Romantic and transcendentalist poets created a movement in which freedom and emotion were favored over intellectual growth. True inspiration is beyond our human reasoning and intelligence can only take us so far as people. There is more to life than just intelligence, including freedom of self-expression, intuition, inspiration and the pursuit of truth. It’s really a matter of taking care of ourselves in a spiritual way.”

Along with director Joseph Cordova, Ania beautifully conveys the spiritual power of nature in a compelling video for “Tuesdays,” which features breathtaking overhead shots of Los Angeles’ Runyon Canyon Park against a hazy city backdrop. A gold pocket watch slowly dangles in the video’s opening sequence to symbolize the gradual passage of time in an isolated world.

“Joseph and I went to one of my favorite places that I regularly visit whenever I feel down or need a break from the world. It’s my favorite hiking spot in Los Angeles,” said Ania, who climbs throughout the hills while shredding her green Ibanez.

“We used a pocket watch because I wanted to show the concept of time and how it’s always running away from us as creative people. At the same time, it’s also a social construct. It took us a year and a half to finish the video due to complications from the pandemic, but finishing this project proved to me that you have to keep going in spite of what else is happening around you.”

Continue reading “‘Tuesdays’ with Ania – New Single, Video Celebrate Escaping Manic Mondays”

Bring to Life – Jeff Socia Provides Thoughtful ‘Release’ on New Debut Album

Jeff Socia performs live in northern Michigan. Photo courtesy of Jeff Socia

Four years ago, Jeff Socia decided to reenter the Michigan music scene.

The Traverse City Americana singer-songwriter created a home studio, started playing live shows and honed his songwriting chops.  Socia continued to build his momentum until last March when COVID-19 hit and instantly shuttered the live music world.

“I started booking some stuff on my own, and then last year happened. It’s probably a story you’ve heard a lot from other people – the lockdown was the time they were going to record and release something. I decided to go along with that story and take it one step further,” he said.

Nine months later, Socia dropped his thoughtful, melodic full-length debut album, Release, via all streaming platforms. The fervent 10-track project whips listeners down cozy, winding alt country roads filled with life-changing tales of love, growth, gratitude and risk.

“Everyone needs a release a right now, and this one happened to be mine. Hopefully, when someone listens to it, this can be their release. It’s been cool for me to hear from people who listen to my songs from elsewhere,” Socia said.

“I’ve gotten feedback from people in Ireland and other places. What we do here touches other people, and it’s their release. You never know what you’re going to put out there and how it’s going to affect someone. That’s why I called it Release.”

Continue reading “Bring to Life – Jeff Socia Provides Thoughtful ‘Release’ on New Debut Album”

False Note – Joss Jaffe Uncovers Empty Political ‘Promises’ with Mykal Rose

Joss Jaffe unearths political fallacies on “Promises,” with reggae legend Mykal Rose. Photo – Kim Jae Yoon

For Joss Jaffe, today’s global political climate runs rampant with false promises.

The Oakland, California world music singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist shares this widely held notion in his latest reggae-infused single, “Promises,” with Mykal Rose.

“Ultimately, I think politics is always divisive. Peter Tosh would call it ‘politricks.’ But yes, this period in time has been especially unprecedented. Although I do not call out Trump by name in this song and take the approach of an old-school reggae song, where we speak in metaphors and allegory stories, clearly it references the cascade of lies and falsehoods that seem to never end,” Jaffe said.

“However, yes, the song also speaks to the timeless, and sadly, seemingly ever relevant problems this poor type of leadership brings, and it’s not just limited to the U.S.”

Throughout “Promises,” Jaffe and Rose quickly unstitch the increasing fallacies Trump and other controversial political figures continually weave into society’s fraying fabric. Vibrant horns, thumping drums, bouncy bass, breezy synths, spirited organ and peppy electric guitar seamlessly undo each tumultuous thread.

Rose eagerly chants, “Promises are a comfort to a fool/All they wanna give is promises/We know the golden rule/Yet they wanna use you like a footstool.” In response, Jaffe soulfully sings, “Step on you to reach that goal/And cast you aside when you played your role/Promises that keep on saying/But then you look at them and see they’d never change.”

“My vision for this song is something that’s uplifting and triumphant over adversity. Something that rises above the current moment, however difficult it is, and gets back in touch with the universal consciousness,” Jaffe said.

With honest, reflective lyrics and a hypnotic reggae sway, Jaffe and Rose triumph with “Promises” as a fitting theme song for our turbulent political and social times. The track serves as the duo’s second dynamic collaboration since the divine, glistening “Elohim” with Shimshai in 2015 for Jaffe’s Dub Mantra Sangha album.

“Mykal Rose has always been one of my longtime heroes of reggae music. We have a mutual friend named Siah who is his guitar player and produces some of his songs. Mykal is a true legend; rocksteady in the studio and always pushing everyone to capture their best possible take. It was a true blessing,” Jaffe said.

Continue reading “False Note – Joss Jaffe Uncovers Empty Political ‘Promises’ with Mykal Rose”

Sea Change – LovelyOcean Makes Refreshing Hip-Hop Waves on New ‘Forever’ Album

LovelyOcean gets introspective on her debut album, “Forever.” Photo courtesy of Golden Poppy

For LovelyOcean, the right words bring a welcome songwriting sea change.

The Los Angeles hip-hop singer-songwriter poetically shares her innermost thoughts about authenticity, self-awareness, passion and growth on her vintage-inspired debut album, LovelyOcean Forever, which dropped Aug. 14 via all streaming platforms.

Forever started off with the idea of manifesting how I wanted my 2020 to go. I wanted to speak my wishes into existence through music. Words are some of our most powerful forms of manifestation. The themes in this album just came naturally since they’re real experiences,” she said.

LovelyOcean beautifully turns the hip-hop tide through eight reflective tracks infused with shiny synths, slow jams, catchy rhymes, euphoric beats and palpitating electronic percussion. Forever serves as a modern underground mixtape to inspire emerging and established female hip-hop artists looking for a new musical shoreline.

It’s the type of cassette artists would pass back and forth to create a stronger sense of camaraderie, collaboration and community. The exquisite “Forever (Intro)” sets an ideal old-school tone as the mixtape instantly clicks into a worn boombox and compelling skits from “The Maury Povich Show” are interspersed throughout the brief track.

Quiet, thoughtful piano echoes LovelyOcean’s introversion and peaceful presence as she reflects, “I could try to be louder or extroverted, but there’s beauty in my silence. From my silence comes observation, awareness, a story, a song, a forever.”

“I want to say that I started writing in February of this year, but once quarantine started I put everything on pause because I was super uninspired. One day I woke up, listened to two beats and then just started writing. All in all, it took three months to get everything written, recorded and edited. We converted a closet in the living room into our studio so every track recorded was in the closet,” LovelyOcean said.

Continue reading “Sea Change – LovelyOcean Makes Refreshing Hip-Hop Waves on New ‘Forever’ Album”